Ann Arbor Area Community News
Margaret Connors, Chis Easthope, and Joan Lowenstein all responded to the request for replies to the ArborUpdate Voter Guide. We contacted Eric Gutenberg multiple times through the contact form on his web site, but we received to response.
1. What do you think qualifies you to be a judge?
Margaret Connors: I believe that a good judge is bright, fair, knowledgeable (in regard to both law and life), industrious, patient, decisive, firm, ethical, personable, humble, compassionate, and punctual. A good judge cares about all of the people who come before her, treats everyone with the dignity that they deserve, and applies applicable law to the facts of each case, without fear or favoritism.
I also believe that an aspiring judge would have spent their time in the Courtroom if in fact that is what they truly love.
I have a good heart, and I strive daily to do my best, personally and professionally; to attain and uphold the qualities cited above.
I was a teacher for 12 years, a defense attorney, a civil litigator, and most recently a Washtenaw County assistant prosecuting attorney for 18 1/2 years, serving for the bulk of the last 11 years assigned to the 15th district court every day, every week, every month. I was promoted to First Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, assigned to supervision and desk work, in 1993. In 1995, I gave up both the title and the pay to return to the Courtroom as a trial attorney. I know the job. I believe that my personal traits, the wisdom of my years, and my lengthy and applicable Courtroom experience, coupled with my love of the law, the Courtroom and the people of my home town contribute to my qualification for this position.
Chris Easthope: I have 12 years experience as a practicing, full-time district court attorney. I am the only candidate who regulary practices in all of the areas of law covered by the district court, including extensive criminal law experience, general civil, landlord/tenant and consumer rights and traffic cases. I have tried over 100 criminal, civil and admininstrative trials and hearings. I was rated most qualified overall by the members of the Washtenaw County Bar Association and rated “well qualified” by the local Women Lawyers Association. As a city councilmember and former Mayor Pro Tem, I have expericence with budgets and community outreach programs. I helped establish the 15th District Court’s Sobriety Court program. I am a member of the Ann Arbor Public School Foundation Board. I have a long record of community service and I believe that my experience, instincts, temperment and values are consistent with what this community would require of one of its’ judges.
Joan Lowenstein: My career has not been narrowly-focused. I started out as a television reporter and photographer in Oklahoma City. One of the stories I covered there was the Karen Silkwood trial, where I got to see the now-famous lawyers Gerry Spence and Barry Scheck in action. I went to law school and then worked in Miami, where I was a law clerk for a federal judge and went on to work at a firm that did a lot of First Amendment and media law. When I came here, I also did First Amendment law and represented the Ann Arbor News a few times. But I also did all kinds of other civil litigation, including some divorce cases. I taught First Amendment law at the University for seven years. During that time, I co-authored a Michigan Supreme Court brief in the Baby Jessica case. I wrote a column on legal issues for the News and a chapter on libel and privacy law for the Institute for Continuing Legal Education. After teaching, I went back to law practice that was pretty varied, but has included a lot of intellectual property (copyright and trademark) law. Meanwhile, I’ve served on City Council, Planning Commission and the DDA. So, I can handle a wide variety of activities and develop expertise in many things. A judge has to be able to listen to and understand issues that he or she may never have encountered in practice. My record shows that I can do that.
2. What role can you as a judge play in the crisis we are facing with the number of people in this State who are incarcerated and the subsequent costs?
Margaret Connors: The District Court handles misdemeanors (crimes where potential jail time is 1 year or less), small claims cases, civil cases where the damages alleged are less than $25,000 and landlord tenant cases. Civil sanctions do not include jail; only criminal cases may result in jail time. However, because of the jail overcrowding crisis in Washtenaw County, it is not unusual for misdemeanants to be turned away from jail. Given that, programs have been and must continue to be established that address the root of the problem that brought someone before the Court; programs that work to avoid recidivism. Currently, the Street Outreach Court and the Sobriety Court in 15th employ interdisciplinary services that assist the defendant in addressing mental health issues, homelessness and insobriety as it applies to driving offenses. I would like to review the success of “Drug Courts” which have been employed in other jurisdictions. Further, many non-driving crimes, i.e. assaultive crimes, property destruction, etc. occur after the consumption of alcohol. Our post conviction programs for those cases should include sobriety assessment and treatment as well.
Chris Easthope: District court judges do not have the power to send people to state prisons. However, they do have a direct impact on the local county jail population. I have always favored alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders. I believe that any punishment for a crime must also include a chance at rehabilitation and redemption. Without it, a cycle of jail and prison will always exist. Those who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse problems should be directed to resources within our community to help them. A judge must recognize these issues in the criminal law context to ensure that the those who suffer from diseases such as mental illness and substance abuse are not housed in the jail unnecessarily. However, a judge must always look to protect victims of crime and to help them through their time in court with dignity and respect. The judicial system must work for all those that come through it and it requires all participants, judges, attorneys, jurors, community members and litigants to act in a manner that upholds our third branch of the government.
Joan Lowenstein: Judges have the ability, especially in the District Court, to make the punishment fit the person, not just the crime. There are so many resources in Ann Arbor because of the University, that we should be able to find ways, when appropriate, of making people fit into society instead of fitting into a jail cell.
3. If you are an aspiring judge, What recent decision by a sitting judge have you admired that upholds the rule of law in the face of contrary community sentiment? Why?
Margaret Connors: I admire Justice Marilyn Kelly’s dissent in NATIONAL PRIDE. She went to the legislative intent of the law. She learned that the proponents of the law had represented it to serve one purpose prior to enactment and had altered their position after the law was enacted. She displayed both an admirable work ethic and the courage to speak alone.
Chris Easthope: From a historical perspective, there are several United States Supreme Court rulings that defined individual rights and civil rights from the Warren court such as Brown v Board of Education of Topeka which declared that state laws that established separate public schools for black and white students denied black children equal educational opportunities, and Miranda v Arizona that defined what rights defendants were to be told upon their arrest, that I have admired. From a very local, district court standpoint, 15th District Court Judge Creal recently ruled that on some stretches of roadway within the city, the posted speed limit set by the City was contrary to State law. It was a difficult decision as it increased the speed limit in certain limited areas. The case could have had far reaching affects and caused confusion. Nonetheless, the judge looked closely at the law as presented to her by the people who received the ticket and listened to the lawyers arguments on both sides and ruled according to what she believed was the law and not what community sentiment was.
Joan Lowenstein: I can answer this best by looking at Constitutional law and my area of special interest — the First Amendment. Supreme Court justices have often had to to uphold the First Amendment in the face of wide public sentiment against free speech. Two particular areas are flag burning and pornography. Justice William Brennan twice wrote opinions overturning flag burning laws written by pandering legislators. Just a couple of months ago, Justices Souter and Ginsburg dissented in a child pornography case. This was very brave. They said a federal law that made it a crime to offer someone child pornography — and in this case the photos did not really exist — should have been held unconstitutional because it punished thoughts rather than actions. It’s easy to go with the flow and say “Down with flag burning! Down with pornography!” but it’s a lot harder to look at the Constitution and realize that there’s a principle to uphold.
Note: This is posted by Chuck Warpehoski, so he, not Nancy Shore, get’s the blame for any misrepresentations or botched cut-and-paste jobs.
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